Tauranga couple caught in Fiji flood chaos


It was their first trip to Fiji and should have been the holiday of a lifetime.

But Tauranga couple Anita and Ian Gray had their getaway ruined when a tropical storm moved in and ravaged their island resort.

The Grays were among hundreds of Kiwi holidaymakers stranded in Fiji after the storm caused widespread flooding on the islands, killing four people and forcing thousands into evacuation centres at the weekend.

About 8000 have been evacuated since the floods hit areas in Western Viti Levu. A temporary suspension of flights to Fiji has been lifted but a state of emergency remains in place as strong winds, thunderstorms and heavy rain continue to batter the island nation.

Tropical cyclone Daphne was expected to pass 500km southwest of Fiji last night, bringing more rain and strong winds.

A tropical cyclone warning was in place and gale warnings in force for western Viti Levu, Yasawa and Mamanuca group, southern Lau, Kadavu and nearby smaller islands.

The bad weather was expected to peak at midnight last night and gradually improve through tomorrow.

It was the Grays' first overseas trip since 2007.

Mrs Gray, 53, said she and her husband flew to Fiji on Monday last week for five days at Radisson Blue Resort on Denarau Island, a gated resort island west of Nadi Airport.

Instead they had to stay eight days until they could be evacuated home.

"It was supposed to be a surprise holiday for my husband, which I had organised, and the first two days were really lovely, just chilling out, swimming and kayaking," she said.

"We had also booked to go on a boat trip to Savala Island on Thursday but had to cancel as things started to change on Wednesday morning and overnight the storm moved in with lots of thunder and lighting, heavy rain, and high winds," she told the Bay of Plenty Times.

"It was horrendous. It seemed to go on forever and you couldn't go outside for more than a few seconds without getting drenched.

"It was really rough, with lots of large waves coming ashore, branches and coconuts falling off trees and the storm got even worse on Thursday night and the roads to the airport got closed on Friday due to widespread flooding which stranding tourists and residents alike."

Mrs Gray said the staff at their resort were "absolutely brilliant" in looking after them and other guests, despite only 10 per cent of the staff managing to make it in - including a man who swam to work.

Their trip from their hotel in Denarau to Nadi on Saturday was a "shocker".

"We had to four-wheel-drive our way out and there was terrible flooding everywhere, with some roads washed away and cars ... washed up on the sides of the road and lots of houses flooded."

She said it had been terrible to see people trying to get back to their homes, stuck out in the pouring rain.

All flights in and out of Fiji had been cancelled and all the accommodation near the airport was "chock-a-block", Mrs Gray said.

But they managed to find a room in Nadi which they shared with a Christchurch couple and had counted their blessings.

"We thought we would end up having to sleep at the airport.

"Clearly, some people who couldn't get accommodation had to."

Mrs Gray said they finally managed to get on a special charter flight organised by Air New Zealand on Monday night and flew back into the country at 2am yesterday.

But she said the storm had not put her or her husband off returning to Fiji.

It was unclear how many other Tauranga residents were still stranded in Fiji, but House of Travel owner-operator Shane Kennedy said he was aware that at least a dozen of his clients were still in Fiji, including a local bank manager.

The Salvation Army has launched Fiji Flood Appeal as the island nation braces itself for another tropical storm that is predicted to intensify to cyclone force.

Donations can be made online at www.salvationarmy.org.nz

Please specify that the donation is to be directed for "Fiji Flood Appeal" purposes when donating.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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